Although Berkeley is also a participant in Coursera, the purveyor of massive open online courses offered to thousands of students, the data science program will not be a MOOC. Quite the opposite. Classes will be small, with no more than 15 to 20 students.
Students will participate in live, face-to-face classes with fellow students and professors via the Web. Additional coursework will include lectures, interactive case studies and collaborative assignments. Classes will use 2U's online platform and feature self-paced content developed by I School faculty and a video chat feature for online discussions.
"This will be our first major effort in online education, so we wanted a partner to help us do a good job," Saxenian said. Engaging with 2U as a cloud service made sense even though Berkeley has its own technology in place for offering online courses, she said.
"Online education is really less about the technology than you might think. It's really a service business as much as anything," Saxenian said. "So much of the education process is about getting students engaged, making them feel comfortable on the platform, and building the social world they feel comfortable in. What we know about education is that students need to be engaged and motivated. A lot of hand-holding goes on with the students at every stage, and the high-touch piece of this is very important."
2U is also "rightly proud of its completion rates, which are very high -- 80% or more -- which is not true of the MOOCs," Saxenian said.
2U's Paucek said he is also enthusiastic about Saxenian and the rest of the I School's leadership. "They're ready to do something that's not just a toe in the water," he said. Students will also be required to participate in a one-week immersion program, on campus, so that they will meet their professors and the other students in person.
Some of the technical aspects of the program are still under development. For example, Saxenian is investigating providing every student with an Amazon Web Services account for data-crunching projects as part of the package. In partnership with 2U, faculty members are hard at work developing videos and other course content that will be delivered asynchronously.
Because 2U's contracts are structured on a revenue-sharing basis, Paucek said his company is also making a bet on the program as a good one to get involved in. "Unlike some of the other companies in space, we're not trying to power as many programs as possible. We'll put in $10 million before we really start to see a return, so we have to be very careful about what we work on. It's not a small decision, and it's definitely a two-way decision, because we're not really a vendor. It's really a partnership."